Barnes & Noble sells fewer Nooks, retail revenue falls

Thu Jan 3, 2013 11:28am EST
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By Phil Wahba

(Reuters) - Barnes & Noble Inc's Nook unit reported weak holiday season numbers on Thursday as it sold fewer e-readers and tablets at its own stores, and its e-books sales growth slowed, raising questions about the future of its digital business.

The Nook, launched in 2009 to compete with Inc's market-leading Kindle, has been the cornerstone of Barnes & Noble's strategy to counter the shift by many book readers to digital books. Early growth attracted a big investment last year from Microsoft Corp.

And last week, British education and media publisher Pearson Plc said it would take a 5 percent stake in Barnes & Noble's Nook Media unit, which also includes its college bookstore chain, giving it a $1.8 billion value, about double the company's value as a whole.

But questions swirled about whether it is worth that much, after the retailer said that the Nook segment's revenue fell 12.6 percent from a year earlier during the nine weeks ended December 29, hurt by lower unit sales and prices.

Sales of digital content like e-books and magazines rose 13.1 percent during the holidays, a much slower pace than the 38 percent gain last quarter and 113 percent in the 2011 holiday season, suggesting Barnes & Noble is having trouble holding on to its 25-30 percent share of the U.S. e-books market.

"We are way beyond the point where you should see content sales accelerate," Morningstar analyst Peter Wahlstrom told Reuters. "That hasn't materialized and that's concerning."

The numbers were all the more disappointing given that in late November, Barnes & Noble had told investors Nook device sales doubled over the Black Friday weekend, which follows Thanksgiving and kicks off the holiday season in earnest.

That suggests the rest of season was a debacle, analysts said, and Chief Executive William Lynch said in a statement that Barnes & Noble is "examining the root cause" of the shortfall and will adjust its strategy.   Continued...

The Nook Tablet is seen during a demonstration at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York, November 7, 2011. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton